The Main Arguments in the Syrian ISIL Air Strikes Debate


I’ve listened today to some of the Commons debate regarding the issue of Syrian air strikes. Here’s what I think (as I heard it) are the key arguments being made on either side:


  • UN resolution 2249 – to use ‘all necessary means’ to combat this threat to international peace and security
  • Our allies have requested our help
  • We can make a significant impact against terrorist forces – at least we can reduce the threat of terrorism, and prevent (to some degree) its spread
  • We must do something; we can’t do nothing
  • This action is simply a small extension of what we are already doing in Iraq
  • Diplomacy cannot work as terrorists are unwilling to negotiate
  • The threat is present, real, and significant, therefore we need to act to protect our citizens
  • We cannot know all of the unintended consequences, but inaction also carries unintended consequences



  • It won’t really make much difference – a few planes won’t achieve much; you’d have to put significant numbers of troops on the ground, which is a very different thing
  • It’s just a symbolic gesture – revenge for Paris is not a sufficient condition
  • The fact ‘we can’t do nothing’ doesn’t mean ‘we can do anything’
  • Anything less than complete defeat of ISIL is pointless; and if you do defeat them what do you put in its place?
  • It’s not our job to police other governments or others’ disputes – defending our borders and invading someone else’s are very different things
  • Diplomacy and peacemaking efforts have not been exhausted
  • Action may provoke further retaliation and threat, and may serve to radicalise many more – recent US bombing has served to increase the numbers of ISIS recruits
  • We can’t guarantee the safety of civilians
  • There may be all sorts of unintended negative consequences which we cannot foresee

As I say, these are the arguments as I heard them – there may be others, and doubtless they could be better put. In my own thinking and reflection I’ve come to the following conclusions.

First, no-one seems to disagree with the first argument against. All (as I heard the debate) agreed that action would not be decisive. Opinion ranged from those who thought it would make a little (but real) difference, to those who thought it would make no difference. This seems to me a significant problem. The stakes are too high for symbolic gestures. Posturing shouldn’t gamble with non-combatant lives. Second, UN resolution 2249 does place the UK under a responsibility to take all necessary steps to combat ISIL. We ought to take that responsibility seriously. Perhaps action will not achieve significant change, but numbers alone cannot be the measure.

All of that said I’m still really not sure what I think. I pray for those who have the burden of making these decisions. Everyone will have their own opinions on the issues at stake. To me it appears far from clear. And so perhaps the best thing my fellow Christians can do is pray for our leaders, for victims, for refugees, and yes, even for the perpetrators – God has a history of dealing with extremists (see Acts 9). Pray for justice, and pray for peace on earth and goodwill to all men. And above all pray Maranatha!


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